FAQs


What is the Council on Foreign Relations? When and why was it formed?
The Council is a nonpartisan national membership organization, think tank and publisher, with headquarters in New York, offices in Washington, D.C., and programs nationwide.

The Council on Foreign Relations was founded in 1921 by businessmen, bankers, and lawyers determined to keep the United States engaged in the world. Today, the Council is composed of men and women from all walks of international life and from all parts of America dedicated to the belief that the nation’s peace and prosperity are firmly linked to that of the rest of the world. From this flows the Council’s mission: to foster America’s understanding of other nations—their peoples, cultures, histories, hopes, quarrels, and ambitions—and thus to serve our nation through study and debate, private and public.

What are the goals of the Council? How are they achieved?
The Council now pursues three goals:

1) Add value by improving understanding of world affairs and by providing new ideas for U.S. foreign policy.

The Council does this in many ways. The Council sponsors independent task forces when an issue arises of current and critical importance to U.S. foreign policy, and it seems that a group diverse in backgrounds and perspectives may nonetheless be able to reach a meaningful policy consensus through private and nonpartisan deliberations. Council Policy Initiatives (CPIs) focus on current foreign policy issues of great importance where consensus seems unlikely.

2) Transform the Council into a truly national organization to benefit from the expertise and experience of leaders nationwide.

The Council aims to energize foreign policy discussions across the country. As Council membership outside New York and Washington, D.C. continues to grow and diversify, the Council will create new ways to involve these members in intellectual dialogue.

3) Find and nurture the next generation of foreign policy leaders and thinkers.

The Council does this primarily through a special term membership program for younger Americans and a "Next Generation Fellows" program that brings outstanding younger scholars onto the Council staff, as well as the International Affairs Fellowships and several other fellowship programs. These programs aim to spark interest and participation in world affairs and U.S. foreign policy.

How is the Council managed? Who is in charge?
The Council is governed by a standard corporate structure: the Chairman of the 31-member board provides overall direction, the President leads the daily operations.

Peter G. Peterson, Chairman of the Blackstone Group, a private investment bank, is Chairman of the Council. Maurice R. Greenberg, Chairman and CEO of American International Group, and Carla A. Hills, Chair and Chief Executive Officer of Hills & Company, are Vice Chairmen. Leslie H. Gelb, a former senior government official and New York Times editor and columnist, is President.

Who are the members of the Council? How and why are they selected?
The Council's 3,600 members are divided almost equally among New York, Washington D. C. and the rest of the nation. They are leaders in government, business, finance, media, academia and a wide range of nonprofit organizations.

Every candidate for membership must be formally proposed in writing by one member and seconded by a minimum of two other individuals, at least one of whom is a Council member. Quality, diversity and balance are the key objectives sought by the Council in the composition of its membership.

The roster of members is listed in the annual report.

Who finances the Council?
The Council is supported by a wide range of individuals and institutional donors. Specifically, the Council's largest donations come from corporate, foundational and individual endowment gifts and grants. Member donations constitute "The Annual Fund," which is in addition to annual dues.

A list of donors appears in the annual report.

Is the Council on Foreign Relations part of the U.S. government, the United Nations or organizations such as the Royal Institute for International Affairs and Trilateral Commission?
No, the Council is a nongovernmental, nonprofit and nonpartisan organization.

Why are senior government officials, Congress members, journalists, and corporate executives members of the Council?
Membership in the Council can represent both the recognition of exceptional achievement in a career involving international affairs, as well as the promise of one. The former are usually elected to full membership, the latter are usually elected to five-year term memberships, which can lead to full memberships at their conclusion.

It is important to avoid reversing the causal order in this question. The Council does not "anoint" government officials, nor advance the careers of those in other fields; it does exert great effort in attracting individuals who have displayed significant dedication, expertise and success in professions concerning American foreign policy and world affairs, and also in encouraging them to help in our mission by participating in our meetings and other activities.

Is the Council on Foreign Relations secret?
Absolutely not. From the start, the Council has published the results of their study groups and task forces, as well as an annual report. In addition, Council Fellows and members often write books, magazine and journal articles and opinion pieces that appear in newspapers like the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times.

Many meetings are held off-the-record to encourage frankness among participants—the members would be hesitant to express new or developing ideas if they feared that they would be published the following day. However, an increasing number of meetings are held on-the-record, with journalists reporting on the events in papers across the country.

For several years, the Council has sustained a vibrant Communications Department, which acts as the liaison between the public and the organization. It also maintains a critically-acclaimed web site, http:\\www.cfr.org. Now, anyone with access to the Internet can now enjoy a wide range of frequently-updated information: articles by Fellows; papers and books published by the Council on Foreign Relations Press; video and audio feeds from Council meetings; biographies of Fellows; news on Council events; and more.

Does the Council on Foreign Relations create "outside threats" in order to encourage Congress to appropriate unnecessary funds to the defense industry?
No. In fact, one of the country's leading proponents of significantly cutting the defense budget is the Council's highest-ranking scholar, Vice-President and Director of Studies Lawrence J. Korb.

For more information:
The following academic studies thoroughly examine the Council's history:

Robert D. Schulzinger, The Wise Men of Foreign Affairs (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984).

Michael Wala, The Council on Foreign Relations and American Foreign Policy in the Early Cold War (Providence, R.I.: Berghann Books: 1994).